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BWW Review: Cleverly Rebellious PERFECT ARRANGEMENT Looks At The Lavender Scare of the 1950s


Playwright Topher Payne's cleverly rebellious Perfect Arrangement begins with a picture of 1950s sophistication that looks ripped out of an advertisement in Life Magazine.

Julia Coffey, Christopher J. Hanke, Jennifer Van Dyck,
Kevin O'Rourke, Robert Eli and Mikaela Feely-Lehmann
(Photo: James Leynse)

Set in a middlebrow stylish duplex apartment living room in Georgetown, Washington D.C. (great work by designer Neil Patel), two young couples exchange middlebrow witticisms with a distinguished older couple over brightly colored mixed cocktails. When they talk of their recipes, cigarettes or cars they speak in the language of Madison Avenue ad copy. Costume designer Jennifer Caprio has the women looking fabulous in their crinoline dresses.

And each one resembles a quickly recognizable 1950s sitcom type. Bob (Robert Eli) has a rugged and firm masculine presence and his wife Millie (Mikaela Feely-Lehmann) is the pleasant and sensible one. Jim (Christopher J. Hanke) has an outgoing, comical personality and his other half, Norma (Julia Coffey) is the working gal with a dry wit.

Middle-aged Theodore (Kevin O'Rourke) is robust and hearty, while his wife, Kitty (Jennifer Van Dyck) is a bit of a ditz.

Julia Coffey, Kelly McAndrew
and Jennifer Van Dyck
(Photo: James Leynse)

Theodore is Bob's boss, working in Personnel Security for the State Department, digging into the backgrounds of government employees and firing those who seem security risks. Norma is Bob's secretary. Up until now their work has been mainly about uncovering possible Communists, but Theodore mentions that they've been instructed to expand their searches to include "deviants."

When the boss and his wife leave we find out exactly how awkward this is for the remaining four. Both their marriages, and their living situations, are matters of convenience because Bob and Jim are actually a couple, as are Millie and Norma. They keep up appearances by living in adjoining apartments connected by a hidden door in the closet.

At first the controlling Bob is sure he can handle the situation and only fire those who seem an obvious security risk, one of whom is the blatantly "loose woman," Barbara (Kelly McAndrew). Unapologetic about exercising her right to enjoy having sex with whomever she chooses, Barbara shows up at the apartment demanding an explanation and recognizes Millie from a one-nighter in her distant past.

It looks like their perfect arrangement is about to be exposed, but then one or two members of the closeted quartet start to wonder if maybe that's not such a bad idea. Perhaps openly demanding to be treated with respect is better than hiding in comfort. The sitcom tone smoothly transitions into something more serious and rebellious.

PERFECT ARRANGEMENT is beautifully structured like an episode of I LOVE LUCY that never would have aired. Under Michael Barakiva's snappy direction, the nutty twists and turns are played with crisp comic panasche instead of as a parody, by a terrific ensemble.

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